I sat down with Steve Cowley, General Manager for IBM Watson, on Tuesday at IBM Insights to talk about Watson successes, challenges since the January launch, and what is in store. While the potential has always intrigued me, the initial use cases and message gave me more than a bit of pause: the daunting task to develop and train the corpus, the narrowness of the use cases, what would this actually cost? Jump ahead nine months and the IBM Watson world is in a very different place.
IBM is clearly in its market building phase. It is as much about what IBM Watson is and how IBM overall is repositioning itself as it is about changing the business model for selling technology. However, it is easy to get negative very fast on this strategy as seen with the tremors on Wall Street as IBM's stock has gone from a 52 week high of $199 to $164 at close on Friday 10/31, much of that happening in the past month since earnings release. Wall Street may not like company uncertainty during transitional periods, but enterprise architects care about what will make their organizations successful, make development and management of technology easier, and making sure costs don't sky rocket when new bright shiny objects come in. And, that is where IBM is headed with an eye toward changing the game.
IBM Watson delivers on information over technology.
Steve surprised me with this statement, "[With] traditional programmed systems, the system is at its best when it is deployed, because it is closest to the business need it was written for. Over time these systems get further and further away from the shifting business need and so either they fall in effectiveness, or require a great deal or maintenance." Steve pointed out that data is what is changing the game.*
A few weeks ago I read a blog post by Seth Godin and it hit me like a ton of bricks: Records management is a skeuomorph. I confess, I had never heard of the term “skeuomorphism” until just a few months ago. I learned the word via blogs and tech articles discussing design trends in mobile.
What is a skeuomorph? A simple definition (courtesy of academic George Basalla, via Wikipedia) is “an element of design or structure that serves little or no purpose in the artifact fashioned from the new material but was essential to the object made from the original material.”
In other words, every time we pick up an iPad and download our digital “book” on an electronic “shelf” painted with virtual wood stain – we are engaging with a skeuomorph – like this one:
Since joining Forrester this year, I’ve had the opportunity to get briefed on the RM offerings of many ECM and information governance vendors, and with just a few exceptions, there are some unmistakable common threads I see across products. Top of that list? A user experience that has lifted the paradigm of paper and plopped it on top of an electronic records repository.
Creating governance programs that separately address structured (data) or unstructured (content) can be a daunting task for any organization. Most organizations are just now addressing the governance issues that help ensure that their information, both data and content, is trustworthy and reliable. If creating separate governance programs is such a challenge, then why I am advocating the creation of a combined program for information governance? The challenges of governing structured data differ from the problems governing unstructured content, due to different goals, stakeholders, roles, and processes. The result is that governance of these areas involves completely separate endeavors.
But must they be wholly separate? Isn't there enough common ground? Creating an information governance framework that will address both their structured and unstructured information requires that the appropriate IT and business roles and responsibilities are clearly defined and that stakeholders from both IT and business are in agreement with the design and implementation efforts for an effective information governance strategy. Is this task too daunting for an organization to overcome? As more decisions are made using both data and content, it becomes increasingly important that all information used in the decision process is trustworthy and reliable. Agility in decision-making is dependent upon the right information at the right time. So my contention is that we should not wait for our data and content governance program to mature before implementing an overall information governance program. We should look at the similarities in the two governance programs to create a common framework that can be leveraged to create commonality and consistency in the information architecture.
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The amount of data is growing at tremendous speed — inside and outside of companies’ firewalls. Last year we did hit approximately 1 zettabyte (1 trillion gigabytes) of data in the public Web, and the speed by which new data is created continues to accelerate, including unstructured data in the form of text, semistructured data from M2M communication, and structured data in transactional business applications.
Fortunately, our technical capabilities to collect, store, analyze, and distribute data have also been growing at a tremendous speed. Reports that used to run for many hours now complete within seconds using new solutions like SAP’s HANA or other tailored appliances. Suddenly, a whole new world of data has become available to the CIO and his business peers, and the question is no longer if companies should expand their data/information management footprint and capabilities but rather how and where to start with. Forrester’s recent Strategic Planning Forrsights For CIOs data shows that 42% of all companies are planning an information/data project in 2012, more than for any other application segment — including collaboration tools, CRM, or ERP.
Gene briefly explores the misunderstanding between “Enterprise IA” and “User Experience IA.” This tension was well characterized by Peter Morville almost 10 years ago (See “Big Architect, Little Architect.” Personally I think it’s clear that content is always in motion, and unsupported efforts to dominate and control it are doomed. People are a critical element of a successful IA project, since those who create and use information are in the best position to judge and improve its quality. Many hands make light work, as the saying goes.
For example, if you want a rich interactive search results page, you need to add some structure to your content. This can happen anytime from before the content is created (using pre-defined templates) to when it is presented to a user on the search results page. Content is different than data, a theme Rob Karel and I explored in our research on Data and Content Classification. For this reason, IA is both a “Back end” and a “Front end” initiative.
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